Playing with #Fire

Young Adult - Social Issues
306 Pages
Reviewed on 09/03/2020
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

Playing with #Fire by Micky O'Brady is a YA coming of age novel with something different. The unique premise of this story focuses on bullying, teenage life, and the dark side of social media, but uses a fresh vehicle--pro wrestling--to drive the story. Meet Everly, a smart teenage girl who is bullied so badly that she live-streams her suicide attempt. When she attempts to get back on her feet, what will everyone's reaction be? She's having PTSD and other issues from the bullying and suicide attempt, but she soon discovers an unlikely safe space--pro wrestling--in a health class assignment she really had no interest in at first. Why wrestling? The hot superstar athlete who trains her, Fire, may have something to do with it. Things go roller coaster for a while, and the bully brigade starts again, but Everly's life has twists and turns she never expected.

O'Brady has created a socially relevant and potent book for YA readers and uses the platform of wrestling to tell the story, which is original and interesting. You don't find that many novels--YA or adult--that use it as a plot device, and it really works here. You don't have to be a wrestling fan to like this story, but it may make you one by the time you're finished. Everly and Fire are likable, as are the other characters--Haze in particular. O'Brady has adolescent issues down to a T. You learn what lies beneath the characters' motivations for bullying. The plot is intense but appealing, the dialogue dynamic, the conflict explosive, and the ending very satisfying. Playing with #Fire by Micky O'Brady is an A+ read for wrestling fans or anyone affected by bullying.

Lesley Jones

In Playing with #Fire by Micky O'Brady, Everly Aldaire has just returned to George McMillan High School after a bullying campaign left her streaming a suicide attempt online. Instead of supporting her, the school principal's only concern is for the reputation of his school. Everly's cries for help are deemed nothing more than a publicity stunt. However, she is relieved when she discovers the bullies have found a new victim; newcomer Calan Adler, a silent, scarred but athletic loner. When a health class challenge is announced, Everly is left with the only sport no-one else wants; wrestling. But, what seems like her worst nightmare turns into a blessing as she meets her trainer, Fire. His wrestling outfit disguises his appearance but the chemistry between them is explosive. As Fire becomes not only her trainer but her mentor, he provides Everly with a safe sanctuary to be herself. Having Fire in her life is vital as the daily bullying on and offline begins once more. But as Everly struggles to keep her life from falling apart, she discovers a betrayal that could break her trust in everyone. Does she allow the bullies to win or will she find the strength to fight back?

The subject matter of Playing with #Fire by Micky O'Brady is not only extremely well-researched and written but very realistic. The dialogue is so authentic and matches the personalities of the characters perfectly. I identified with the parents in the story, as they battled with the horrifying truth that their children were either being bullied or, worse still, were the perpetrators. Everly's torment was incessant and what made it worse was that she couldn't identify who the bullies were. This highlighted the problem of fake social media accounts which allow the trolls to victimize anyone with impunity. The principal's actions were infuriating and so unprofessional. There are great moments of tensions and the twists in the plot were spectacular. Everly's best friend Hazel had so much personal strength and did not bow down to peer pressure like most of the other characters. I simply adored her speech at the end. This book is a must-read for anyone in high school. This is a novel that could be used as a teaching aid or springboard to a much-needed debate in school or at home on the dangers of teasing others or using thoughtless but hurtful comments.

Jack Magnus

Playing with #Fire is a coming of age/social issues novel for young adults written by Micky O’Brady. Everly Aldaire was not looking forward to being back at George McMillan High, but the alternative had been infinitely grimmer. Her dad wanted to send her to a private school for troubled youths. Everly wished he’d just keep busy with his new family on the other side of the world and leave her alone. Her mom was doing more than enough making sure Everly had no access to the internet, computers, tablets, even a flip phone. Seeing her daughter nearly die from the suicide attempt she live-streamed on TeeVee had profoundly shocked her mom, and Everly couldn’t really blame her for her vigilance in checking Everly’s backpack after school and keeping tabs with her teachers.

Micky O’Brady’s Playing with #Fire is a beautifully written and compelling story about a teen’s recovery from social media bullying and her experiences in the world of pro-wrestling. O’Brady’s plot is marvelous and has something for everyone. There’s a compelling romance, the dark vision of a horde of bullies masquerading as high school seniors, and the mystery behind a badly burned classmate whose very presence seems to inspire his peers to physically abuse him at every opportunity. Watching Everly navigate her parental issues while staying above the small-mindedness and meanness of high school is fascinating, but not nearly as much as her introduction to pro-wrestling. I was enthralled reading about the training she receives under the tutelage of Fire, Ben Bullet’s assistant, and loved learning about a sport I had previously no interest in. Playing with #Fire is a joy to read; one of those books that get you wrapped up in the story and reluctant to come up for air. It’s most highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

Playing with #Fire is a work of fiction in the social issues, interpersonal drama, and slice of life sub-genres, and was penned by author Micky O'Brady. The work is intended for mature teen reading audiences, but it does contain the use of some explicit language, themes of bullying, and attempted suicide. After protagonist Everly Aldaire almost has her life destroyed by intense bullying, returning to school is far from easy. So when she’s assigned pro wrestling as part of a health initiative, at first she thinks things are going from bad to worse. So begins a fascinating journey of empowerment, personal growth, and meeting a mysterious figure who really understands her on the inside.

Author Micky O'Brady has crafted a compelling young adult drama that will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who reads it. The central issues of bullying, self-esteem, social media and high school mentality are all dealt with very well, even in the most sensitive moments, and the story offers a realistic depiction of desperation and the strength to turn things around. The character development is also really well rounded, taking the teen pairing of Everly and Fire to new depths as much more than simple friends or love interests. It was refreshing to see a non-typical sport at the center of a high school drama, and in general, the plot was full of unexpected surprises like that which made it quite unique. Overall, I would highly recommend Playing with #Fire to readers who enjoy authentic teen drama with realistic characters and an exciting storyline.

Vincent Dublado

The first sentence that opens this Micky O’Brady novel says it all: “Life is a show.” For Everly Aldaire, the seventeen-year-old protagonist of Playing with #Fire, social media has given everyone an equal footing when it comes to stardom. Gathering followers here and there despite considering herself an ugly duckling, she was regarded as an up and coming Californian influencer. But Everly realizes that popularity can turn on you in the blink of an eye. After a bullying campaign compelled her to lie low, she struggles to resist the temptation of going online to check her feed. While giving herself psychological and emotional time to recuperate from the bullying, she is pushed to participate in a health class challenge and is placed in the most unpopular sport; wrestling. But then why not? If an enigmatic luchador named Fire is training her, perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad—or is it?

Cyberbullying or electronic aggression is an emerging phenomenon, and Playing with #Fire handles this concept with a thorough understanding of the victim and the victimizer. Through its protagonist’s first-person narration, the reader’s look into Everly’s thoughts makes for gripping anticipation of the actions of the supporting characters as we make judgments based on Everly’s assumptions. The presence of topics in hashtags here and there effectively simulates a world obsessed with Twitter feeds. What separates this book from other YA novels is Micky O’Brady’s skillful weaving of romance, suspense, and social issue into one story that can teach young people that they do not have to remain passive when experiencing bullying. Whether you’re a teen or an adult, you will keep reading and turning the pages once you pick this book up.